Areas of Interest and
Concern of the Design Office,
the Client, and Society
Among the models of the domain of design, perhaps most well
known is Charles Eames’ diagram of the overlap between the
areas of “interest and concern” of the design office, the client, and
society. Eames’s model is sometimes erroneously described as “a
diagram of the design process.” While Eames notes that the “areas
are not static—they grow and develop as each one influences the
others,” his model does not describe how design is (or should be)
practiced; it describes where “designers can work with conviction
and enthusiasm” [ 5].
Eames Design Process
1. If this area
concern of the
2. And this the
area of genuine
interest to the client
4. Then it is in the area
of overlapping interest
and concern that the
designer can work with
These areas are not
static - they give and
develop - as each one
influences the other.
3. And this the
concerns of society
as a whole
Putting more than one client in
the model builds the relationship -
in a positive and constructive way.
September + October 2010
are we making it? Who will use it and for what
purpose? In Morris’s terms, “the relation of signs
2. Semantic—The meaning or definition of the
artifact. What is this? What art we making? What
does it do? In Morris’s terms, “the relation of signs
to the objects to which the signs are applicable.”
3. Syntactic—The form or grammar of the artifact. How will this be? How are we making it?
In Morris’s terms, “the formal relation of signs to
In a rational design process we might begin by
trying to understand why something is needed—
who will use it, where, and to what end; which then
might help define what is designed—the structure
and features that make it meaningful; and lastly
the definition of what’s needed might help drive
how the artifact looks and even how it’s made.
Of course the process is rarely so neat or linear.
Discussion about what may also change the way
we understand why, and prototypes of how very
often affect the way we understand what and even
why. Still we seek not just coherence within each
level, but also between levels. The structure of form
must map to the structure of meaning, and the
structure of meaning must map to the structure of
the context. These mappings do not flow in just one
direction; they are reciprocal. The design process
involves iteration, adjusting structures at each level
to achieve coherence throughout.
In the late 1970s, Ockerse explicitly organized
RISD’s graphic design curriculum around Morris’s
• The first year introduced students to form-
• The second year added greater attention to
• The third year added practical considerations.
Meredith Davis has criticized this approach to
design education, arguing the distinctions are artificial. She has proposed a curriculum that engages
students in issues of form-giving, meaning-making,
and context-negotiating simultaneously. In practice,
however, the distinctions often correspond to commonly found responsibilities or “degrees of freedom” of operation.
Young designers typically find themselves working within a team structure where senior designers, managers, and clients have already negotiated
many of the practical business issues. The problem
at hand is “simple” in Horst Rittel’s terms, well
understood—and already agreed—by the constituents. What remains is the working out of the solution within the established framework.
Also likely is that the message or feature set—the
content, the information architecture, or the interaction sequences—have already been decided by
others. Our young designer’s role is to make it “look
good” or “professional” or “appealing” or even “sexy.”
Doing so requires skill and benefits from training.